art for the day

I’ve been loving the work of Russian painter Isaac Levitan lately.  A friend sent a photo of the painting below to me the other day, thinking it would be exactly the kind of art I’d like.  And I loved the paintings immediately.  This kind of art inspires my daily life: each piece reminds me of the beauty we can find in simplicity and the peace that nature affords us.

Fog Over Water, c. 1895.

Levitan’S Art and Impressionism

When I was first introduced to Levitan, I thought to myself that his paintings must be relatively modern.  I was amazed to find, though, that he was active as early as the late 19th century.  He was stylistically well ahead of his time, eventually becoming known for advancing the genre of “mood landscape.”  This genre gives a sort of spiritual quality to nature by choosing to focus on ambiance and overall tone rather than small details.  The landscape of mood is a genre we still see today, as painters abstract a feeling or mood from landscapes rather than paint a more realistic scene.

It’s easy to see the connection that his paintings had to those of impressionists such as Monet, Degas and Pissarro.  Although Levitan is not nearly as well known as these artists, his art reflects the main themes of impressionism.  These involve focusing on changes in light, often painting en plein air (open air), and capturing the tone of a scene without focusing on technical details.

In the Vicinity of the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery, c. 1880.

Light and COLOR

Levitan’s use of light is sometimes subtle, often striking.  The painting above is a strong example of the power that a few strokes of a lighter color can have.  Without the soft ivory that illuminates the clouds and hints at sunlight in the corner, the painting would be left with a dim, washed-out flatness.  By the incorporation of those lighter colors, though, the painting is given remarkable dimension and is able to evoke the look of sunlight before or after a storm.

Texture and movement in Levitan’s Nature

These last three paintings show the ability that impressionism has to elicit specific feelings.  In each of these, I can close my eyes and almost feel exactly what is going on.  The quiet rustle of birch leaves.  A calm wind drifting through an open field.  The gentle creaking of spindly trees moving in the wind before a storm.  These are just the kind of paintings I want in my house, full of serene elements that bring tranquility to my daily work and thought.

Birch Grove, c. 1885 – 1889.

Gray Day, c. 1888.

The Storm. Rain, c. 1899.